03/01/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA
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President Susilo declares war on illegal logging and trade

Members of army and police force are suspected of involvement in the illegal trade.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono declared war against the smuggling of precious wood from Papua province to China. Top government, army and police officials are suspected of complicity.

London-based Environmental Investigation Agency and Telapak, an Indonesian NGO focusing on resources management issues, had already denounced the connection between high officials and the illegal trade. According to their estimates, some 300,000 m3 are shipped every month from this eastern province of Indonesia to China. Altogether, smuggling activities are worth a total of about 1 US$ billion in trade a year. All this is made possible by complacent army and police officers.

The President, who held a special cabinet meeting on the issue last week, gave national police chief General Dai Bachtiar two weeks to carry out a quick investigation into the activities of 32 cukongs (robber barons) and their protectors in high places and bring charges against them.

Forestry Minister Mala Sambat Kaban spoke to the press about the role army and police officers played in the illegal trade.

"Officers from the East Command Navy Fleet, Papua Military and Police Command, the Papua Branch of Forestry Ministry [are involved with] brokers and the international illegal logging triad," Kaban said.

President Susilo's order has come as a shock to many in the army and the national police. Dozens of officers are said to be on the list of suspects.

General Bachtiar said he would set up an investigation task force to quickly implement the presidential order.

Illegal logging and trade have become a hot potato in Indonesian politics with many calling for new rules.

Former Minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadjac urged the central government to issue new regulations to meet the challenge. "If Minister Kaban thinks that illegal logging is an exceptional crime, it behoves us to adopt exceptional means to curb it. Why not set up an entirely new regulatory system?"

General Adam Damiri, Operation Assistant to Army Headquarters, said he wanted to know whether the problem was limited to a few rogue army officers or more systemic to the institution. Many top army officers have in fact reacted with pessimism to the presidential initiative.

By contrast, judges and scholars have welcomed the step as important in the fight against cronyism, corruption and nepotism, which plague Indonesian society.

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